Friday, January 28, 2005

Chinese Film: Reflecting on Cultural Production

At the lecture on Chinese film this afternoon at the Archives of Traditional Music, I asked a question of the lecturer, Sue Tuohy (not talking about the folksinger, Mary Sue Twohy). It was naturally, about copyright. My question was: If Chinese filmmakers, since China is being brought into line with world intellectual property standards as mandated by the WTO, were now feeling the same pinch of "rights clearance culture" as filmmakers from other countries have been. I thought the question was apropos especially given the topic of her talk, namely the representation of artists and their lives in Chinese films. Of course, this wasn't a problem for China and the Soviet Union before, because the state owns cultural property in communist nations; but now, modern films using archival footage and other cultural properties such as artworks, music, photographs, etc. have to gain clearances before they are allowed to be internationally distributed. As China is one of the biggest exporters of goods in the world, I would think they would want to get in on this.

Yet, I wonder what this will do to Chinese cultural production. As Americans, we only hear about how Asians copy and pirate thousands of CDs and DVDs. We don't recognize the real art that they create from manipulating their own and others' cultures. Anime began as graphic art based on earlier American comic book art, but became an artform in its own right. To play in the big leagues, filmmakers have to assure the multinational corporations that own motion picture studios that all rights are cleared. That's a tough sell--they might not choose to play ball all the time. (Sorry for all the sports metaphors--I only like baseball, so you'll only get those).

And when I mentioned the PDF report and the effect it was having on documentarians here in the United States, she did a little groan and nod. I think she knew what I was talking about. It's amazing how much art and culture cannot be distributed to large percentages of the population, because of all of this. A folklore/ethnomusicology student came up to me afterwards and thanked me for asking the question. I think I hit a nerve here. I told her about the Indiana Students for the Digital Commons, and she was very interested. She's doing her PhD on documentaries, so I think she'd be a good person to get involved with ISDC.

Back to preserving A/V materials...It seems there are a couple of really good film/video archiving programs in the U.S.: UCLA's Moving Image Archive Studies Program and NYU's masters program in Moving Image Archiving and Preservation. Those are probably going to be the basis on which I do research for my Trends and Issues paper (PDF) for Preservation class. Lots of good syllabi and reading lists on their websites. Until we get all this copyright scheisse fixed, we need to at least preserve and maintain our audiovisual heritage that is film, television, radio, audio and video materials. One thing Jake suggested was to look at literature that talks about what material doesn't make it to a master recording, whether it's film or audio. But it's the weekend now, and I'm going to enjoy it as much as I can, and study for a Preservation Quiz (PDF) on Tuesday.


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